Batwoman Episode 4 Review: Who Are You

Kate struggles with her secret identity in an episode showing the critical difference between stories with queer characters & queer stories

This Batwoman review contains spoilers. 

Batwoman Episode 4

This week Batwoman continues to build up who this character and hero are, brick by brick, episode by episode, in a way that feels very organic. The writers made some crucial choices that indicate a nuanced take on how writing a show centered on a queer woman hero can be a fundamentally different enterprise from the bottom up, rather than just swapping out the lead, the suits, and the pronouns. 

The angle of this episode – pairing the coming out story with being a superhero – feels original and full of unexplored territory, a tall order in the year 2019. What does secrecy mean for someone for whom secrets have been so damaging and so oppressive, where it has meant safety in some moments but has also silenced them in fundamental ways? What does it mean to have to keep secrets when a large part of your identity is built on the idea that being open, out, and proud is liberating and true?

Kate has always been open, and I hope future episodes dig into the many reasons why not everyone is able to do so, whether safety, finances, religion, family pressure, or something else. But even for someone who feels they’ve never hidden, LGBTQ people all have some relationship to closeting and secrets, by virtue of our society’s assumption that cis, binary, and straight are the default. And Kate was still outted against her will, more than once, and later forced into a closet at the academy, both things that should never happen to anyone.

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We’ve seen so many origin stories and watched countless superheroes hide their identities with funny, disastrous or even frustrating consequences. But Kate Kane’s experience feels new because it’s filtered through her specific relationship to truth and secrets, one that is derived specifically from her experience as a queer woman. This is what it means to not just tell a story of a queer woman, but to tell queer stories. It makes me so excited and hopeful for what more there is to come on Batwoman.

Magpie was a good villain of the week. She didn’t take up too much room in the plot to squeeze the season-long arc down (which frankly is the main show, as it’s usually the A, B, and sometimes C plot on a given week). Unlike with Hush, it also didn’t feel too rushed – we got just the right amount of time with Magpie. She helped tee up an overall theme of class dynamics for the episode, which feels like itself is teeing up a larger season-long storyline. Most importantly, working with this villain gave Batwoman room to grow as a hero both in how she operates with Luke, against villains, and how she’s seen by her city. There’s nothing quite like that shot of the little girl putting her hand to Batwoman’s cheek. You can’t buy that kind of goodwill.

This episode showed off the program’s sense of humor in a way that reminds me a bit of comics Batwoman. More importantly, though, it helps to define the show’s personality more clearly. On the CW, humor is one of the biggest ways the shows define their identities – we all know a Flash joke from an Arrow joke, which is part of what makes the crossovers so fun. Here, it’s a sly bit of realism, like Batwoman setting off the sensor by sneezing and Mary’s fantastic reaction to meeting Batwoman (“huge fan, but not in like an annoying way.”)

Batwoman smartly – and quietly – sent up a trope of detective and superhero shows here in a way that belies just how expert their writing staff is. When Batwoman needed the intel from the front desk guy, Luke assumed (and the show implied) that she used her “womanly wiles” to get it. Instead she took a selfie and deadpanned, “let me guess – Bruce Wayne doesn’t do selfies?”

We’re so used to seeing women written into a corner where the only way out is through seduction, as though the writers didn’t expressly put them there while deliberately choosing to never put their male characters in the same position. It’s boring to see women characters rely on the same move over and over again, not to mention degrading. While Batwoman has plenty of feminist bonafides they’re surely aware that they’re getting hammered for every move – even comics-accurate ones – from certain corners of the internet. Sometimes it’s wise to quietly write the better story and simply deadpan about why, just like the show’s hero.

Folks on this show are hitting revelations faster than I expected, for which I am grateful. Sophie told Jake about the Hamilton involvement, Reagan is incredibly perceptive for a television character/a normal amount of perceptive for a regular person. Hopefully this means that instead of drawing out secrets for maximum ~drama~ Batwoman is going for legitimate character development instead.

Mary giving Batwoman a hard time about her code brings up a good point: Kate has yet to talk about the Batman rule. Does she know about it? Is she following it? She hasn’t killed anyone so far, but is that intentional? We only know that she plans not to kill Alice because she’s Beth and she’s generally a good person, but it’s not like Kate has declared that she’s on the Batman rule or anything. As she continues to come into her own as a hero, I’d love to watch her develop and articulate a code of her own and let us know whether there’s any daylight between Batman and her.

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Other notes:

Thank God I know it’s Rachel Maddow as Vesper Fairchild asking Batwoman about curling her hair or smiling more, otherwise I would lose it. How much do you think Rachel cackles every time she reads these scripts?

Kate and Reagan are just casually in bed together, NBD. This may not seem like a big deal, but it really, really is. Chaste cheek kisses are a huge thing for many LGBTQ couples on screen, so laid-back average raunch on par with what we see from Oliver Queen (let’s face it, Kate’s closest comparison) is a BFD.

“‘A wise woman once said, ‘Hurt me with the truth, don’t comfort me with a lie.’ Yes Bruce, I’m quoting Rihanna.” We stan!

Kate Kane is going in on gentrification and I could not possibly be any more excited. Bring on the housing possibly, Batwoman writers! And while we’re at it, let’s make people experiencing homelessness more than just window dressing.

Keep up with all our Batwoman TV news and reviews here.

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4 out of 5